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A Queen's Ransom
(a.k.a. International Assassin)
(1976)

Director: Shan-Hsi Ting
Cast:
Jimmy Wang Yu, Angela Mao, George Lazenby


Way back when I reviewed the movie Dillinger And Capone, I talked a little about the use of real life figures in fiction movies. I would like to talk a little more about the subject in this new review. It's interesting to see how certain famous people react to seeing themselves in a movie or a television show when they didn't give permission for the filmmakers to use them in the movie or television show. For example, take the case of American President Bill Clinton. Or rather, more than one case with this famous figure. First case: In 1997, the big budget science fiction movie Contact was released. In one scene of the movie, the filmmakers used footage of Clinton taken from a real life press conference. Well, President Clinton was reportedly upset about the filmmakers' actions, enough so that the studio behind the film was sent a letter from White House Council Charles Ruff protesting the "inappropriate" use of footage of Clinton. On the other hand, neither Clinton nor his White House staff protested whenever Clinton was portrayed in unflattering ways on the animated television show The Simpsons, including one episode when Clinton was stripped naked by aliens. I suppose the difference was that in Contact, it could be argued that it seemed that Clinton was "acting" in the movie, and that he seemed more "real" in Contact than he would in an animated cartoon. Also there is the fact that The Simpsons is a satirical show that makes fun of everyone, so Clinton may have been reluctant to protest since there might have been a backlash from the pubic, a public that is accustomed to the custom of poking fun at people in authority. No leader wants to be seen by the public as a spoilsport.

It's also interesting to see how various people, who may not be portrayed one way or another in a movie they watch, react to other famous people being portrayed in movies. For example, there is the case of Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert. When he reviewed the Richard Gere / Bruce Willis movie The Jackal, one of his big objections was that the assassination target was a thinly disguised Hillary Clinton. Curiously though, years earlier when he reviewed the original Jackal movie - which of course was The Day Of The Jackal - he didn't make even the slightest objection that the assassination target of that movie was an undisguised Charles de Gaulle. And years later, when the controversial movie Death Of A President was released - which concerned itself about the assassination of American President George W. Bush - Ebert didn't voice any outrage or any other kind of negative statement. The deeper that you look into Ebert's reviews of movies involving famous figures used without permission in feature films, the more interesting it gets. Take the movies he has reviewed that involve Queen Elizabeth II. When he reviewed the 2006 Helen Mirren movie The Queen, he didn't seem to have a problem with the movie not getting permission as well as making guesses as to what the real Queen did and said. On the other hand, when he reviewed the 1988 comedy The Naked Gun, while he liked the movie as a whole, he voiced somewhat of an objection to the idea of the Queen being a target of an assassin. His exact words were, "The wisdom of [the movie] directing an assassination attempt at an actual public figure is questionable."

Years earlier, when Ebert reviewed the 1975 thriller Hennessy - which was also about an assassination attempt against Queen Elizabeth, and used real life footage of the Queen edited into the staged scenes - Ebert also seemed to have a problem with the use of the Queen . He stated that, A Queen's Ransom"The ethical questions raised by that footage are complicated. I personally found the scenes of the Queen disquieting." Knowing Ebert's feelings about the use of Queen Elizabeth II in movies, I cannot help but wonder what he would have thought of the movie A Queen's Ransom had he seen it. Like the movie Hennessy, the movie not only concerns itself with a plot to assassinate the Queen, it also uses real footage of the Queen mixed into the narrative. The difference is that A Queen's Ransom is a Hong Kong production. Would Ebert been more forgiving of the movie or not because of this? It's hard to say. Personally I was more concerned about if the movie was entertaining or not. The events of the movie take place in modern day Hong Kong, during an especially strenuous time for the local law enforcement. Hong Kong has recently been flooded with a number of refugees from southeast Asia, for one thing, one of them a mysterious Burmese princess played by Angela Mao (Stoner). But a more pressing problem is with a scheduled visit to Hong Kong by Queen Elizabeth II from England. There is a feeling that the Queen's visit might attract people wishing to do her harm. As it turns out, there is indeed an assassination plot in the air. A group of international terrorists has the Queen in their sights. Among the assassins are an IRA member (Lazenby, Stoner), an American woman (Judith Brown, The Big Doll House), and two others played by martial arts superstar Jimmy Wang Yu (The One Armed Swordsman) and future Hong Kong star Bolo Yeung (Shootfighter). Can the local law enforcement protect the queen from assassination? And what connection does the Burmese princess have in all of this?

Despite the presence of George Lazenby (as well as Angelo Mao and Yu Wang, both of whom had previously appeared in Hong Kong movies that had been released in the United States), A Queen's Ransom never had the chance to make much of an impression to the American public. It took five years for it to find an American distributor, and it was a third rate one that simply dumped it under a new title in a few big city grindhouses. I guess it's possible that had the Queen known about this film, she was happy with this fate if she was informed about it. But as it turns out, she really didn't have much to get worked up about. While the movie does concern an assassination attempt on the Queen, Her Majesty is treated fairly tastefully. There is indeed a few instances of stock footage used of her real life visit to Hong Kong, but except for one brief shot in the final few minutes, the Queen is always a considerable distance from the camera. Because the Queen remains at a distance until the very end, there's less of a feeling of exploitation or violation of her than you might think, even during one sequence where the footage of the Queen is cut with footage of the assassinators preparing their attempt to eliminate her. She comes across pretty well, which is more than you can say for the other characters in the movie. This includes the other non bad guy characters, particularly Angela Mao's character. Though she receives high billing in the credits, she doesn't get to do that much. In the first sixty minutes of the movie, she not only hardly says a word of dialogue at all, she pretty much sits around and lets the surrounding characters do all her work. Sure, Mao can be pleasant eye candy in other movies, but in those other movies she sure worked a lot harder with both acting and with fighting to make really memorable characters.

As for the antagonist characters, they aren't that much better developed in the script. While it's fun for a few minutes to see these aforementioned actors all together in the same movie, it doesn't take long for we in the audience to get utterly bored by their characters. We learn practically nothing about these characters' backgrounds apart from their names. Some of them also hardly get to do a thing of real consequence; Judith Brown's character, for one thing, only seems to be around to provide some nudity and a couple of sex sequences. It shouldn't come as any surprise that with such weak characters, the cast doesn't seem able to do anything that might bring their roles to life. Take George Lazenby, for instance. To his credit, he doesn't try to overact, and does try to make his character cool and confident. But he ends up being too laid back, and this results in his character seemingly bored by his surroundings. The script simply doesn't give him or his co-stars much to do. That is not the only problem to be found with A Queen's Ransom's screenplay. The story seems to be as utterly disinterested as its surrounding characters. Actually, the movie gets off to a pretty good start, introducing the multiple characters as well as multiple plot threads and motivations. But after this promising beginning, writer/director Shan-Hsi Ting seems unable to continue to make the story interesting. The story, quite frankly, moves at the pace of a glacier. There's far too much talk, when a movie with this plot (and this cast) should have been jammed pack with action sequences.

As you probably guessed with that last statement I brought up, A Queen's Ransom is indeed sorely lacking in the action department. If I recall correctly, in the first hour of the movie, there are only two sequences that could be considered action sequences - barely. In fact, almost all the action to be found in the entire movie will probably be considered disappointing by action fans. There are two reasons for this, the first being that most of the action sequences are over very quickly. When Jimmy Wang Yu and Bolo Yeung get into a scrap early on in the movie, for example, it should have been legendary, but it's over in about thirty seconds at the most. The second reason most of the action sequences fall flat is that they aren't particularly well choreographed and directed. They just come across as what you've seen before in dozens of low budget 1970s kung fu movies. The only action sequence that has some life is the extended action climax, which offers some acceptable gunplay as well as some okay fights. Though even then, you can tell this sequence could have been a lot better (Lazenby's and Mao's kung fu duel is kind of a letdown.) While I did imply that the climax as a whole is handled okay (barely), the rest of the direction of A Queen's Ransom is lacking, to be charitable. The biggest problem I had with the tone of the movie is that it is lacking a feeling of tension, a feeling that there is a ruthless force threatening to do serious harm as the protagonists struggle in various ways to defeat it. The movie ends up having a tone that seems aimed at audiences who do not want to feel any kind of thrills or a fun kind of discomfort at all. But if you hate things like rollercoasters or trying exotic foods for the first time, well, this movie may just fit the bill.

(Posted May 14, 2020)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Drive, Sakura Killers, Stoner

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